In a park on the Spanish island of Ibiza, a prototype for new renewable energy isn’t a huge spinning turbine or a field of solar panels. Instead, it’s partially hidden underground: a biological battery that is generating energy from the soil itself.
Pablo Vidarte, the 24-year-old founder of Bioo, the biotech startup developing the panel, started thinking about the concept in a dream. “In the dream, I asked, is it possible to treat the leaves of a plant as a solar panel?” he says. “The short answer is no. But there are ways in which you can actually treat nature as a battery to produce energy for yourself without harming [the environment].”
As it rains, or when the ground is irrigated, nutrients and microorganisms leach from the soil into the new biological battery. Inside the battery, microorganisms feeding on organic matter produce protons and electrons, sending electrons to the anode and protons to the cathode. Air coming through holes in the exposed part of the panel provides oxygen. The process produces a current that can power lights or sensors—and eventually, if scaled up, could potentially power an entire house.